Government urged to review requirements for special needs assistants

Conference hears how many assistants are paying for their own upskilling

Some 25,000 people work in the early-learning sector where they care for up to 170,000 children but they are badly paid

Some 25,000 people work in the early-learning sector where they care for up to 170,000 children but they are badly paid


Impact trade union members have called on the Department of Education to carry out a full review of the entry level requirements for special needs assistants (SNAs), as the current requirements fail to reflect the work being done by 15,000 SNAs to support children with complex and diverse medical needs.

A member of the Munster SNA Branch told the 100 or so delegates at Impact’s Education Division conference in Cork on Thursday that the original post involved assisting the school to provide for the care needs of children with special educational needs and this is still the written requirement for special needs assistant posts.

However, Nora O’Connor from Cork said the basic entry requirement of three Ds in the Junior Cert did not reflect the complexity of care being provided by SNAs, many of whom have upskilled and obtained third-level qualifications all at their own expense.

“Some people would have to catheterise a child, others might have to do a tracheotomy or PEG feed a child or possibly administer medicines for epilepsy or diabetes. For example, the INTO don’t allow their members administer medicines because the responsibility is huge,” she said.

“As SNAs, we have no problem providing this type of care but we need to be recognised for doing it and the entry level should not be that basic, but we get no support from the Department of Education for upskilling ourselves to be able to provide this level of care.”

Munster SNA branch secretary Kay Heffernan, from Tipperary, said that SNAs are allowed sit in with teachers on training courses given in schools by the special education support service but they are not allowed get any recognition or certification for doing the courses.

Earlier, Ciairín de Buis, Impact’s interim early education campaign director, highlighted the situation facing some 25,000 people working in the early learning sector where they care for up to 170,000 children but are paid poorly with little job security.

Ms de Buis said 50 per cent of those working in early years services work part-time and some 37 per cent have a seasonal contract. An Early Childhood Ireland survey found that, on average, early-learning sector workers were earning €10.27 an hour, with a €1 premium for graduates.

Ms de Buis called for greater Government investment in the sector, pointing out that across the EU and the OECD the average expenditure on “early childhood educational institutions” in 2013 was 0.8 per cent of GDP, compared to Ireland’s 0.1 per cent.

“We need increased investment in early education and investment must focus on professionalisation, with agreed salary scales and better working conditions... If we value our young children, we must value those who teach and care for our youngest children,” she said.